By Sari Huhtala
Sandie Gascon makes her way down the side streets of her home in Valley East. Her movement is slow and methodical, and after only 10 minutes exhaustion starts to set in and she starts to feel pain within her muscles and joints. Only a few short years ago Gascon, 29, was living a very active lifestyle working full time as a registered massage therapist, training horses and dogs and living life to its fullest – that is, until a severe bout of food poisoning triggered an immune response that would see her health take a downward spiral into a diagnosis of lupus.
Confronted with two options – take pharmaceuticals and manage her symptoms for the rest of her life or resolve to do what was necessary to recreate vibrant health. She chose the latter, and now, only a few years after her diagnosis is feeling healthier. At the time of her diagnosis, the rheumatologist had advised her to immediately begin immunosuppressant drugs, which would manage symptoms by reducing the strength of her immune system.
But those drugs have many severe side effects, she says. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to create antibodies to cells in the body, which leads to severe inflammation and tissue damage. “I was told that if I didn’t take these drugs I’d be dead in 10 years.” “It was very coincidental, though” she says. “Two weeks prior to my diagnosis I had met someone who had lupus -which was what we suspected I had. She told me I should never start taking the drugs because once you start they are very hard to get off of and she herself had now developed cancer, possibly from the immunosuppressant’s.
She told me to heal my body naturally.” In researching a course of action she had come across evidence that suggested in order to heal from lupus one needed to follow a raw vegan diet, so for the year that followed she attempted to be raw vegan. The problem was that any faltering off the diet would lead to a crash and worsening flare-ups. “I gave raw vegan many tries but kept failing,” Gascon says. “Being on an isolation diet made me more sensitive. It’s like using prescription drugs – it makes you feel like you’re getting better, but you’re never solving the problem – you are just suppressing the symptoms.
The only difference is that eating that way doesn’t have any bad side effects.” It was just a Band-Aid solution, as far as she was concerned. The first thing she discovered when living with any disease one needs to get to the point where one feels good enough mentally to determine to make changes, rather than living in a “poor me – I have to live with this disease” state of mind, she adds. “You need to un-label yourself from the disease. Instead of saying “I have lupus” I started saying “I am healing from lupus.” Many times though this isn’t enough.
Most people have low levels of neurotransmitters in the brain due to years of unhealthy eating, she says. Gascon was one of those people. Gascon developed migraines at age seven and had tried every drug possible. Eventually she was prescribed Effexor (an antidepressant) due to the depression from the chronic pain. It worked wonders. Her migraines disappeared for seven years, but it wasn’t without side effects. She says she felt like a zombie. Eventually she found its efficacy waning and decided she would taper off of the Effexor.
The challenge was managing withdrawal symptoms while tapering. She discovered amino acid therapy and was able to control the withdrawals by rebuilding her levels of serotonin, dopamine and endorphins by using the amino acid precursors to those neurotransmitters. She cautions anyone who is taking prescription medication like Effexor.
They need to work with a qualified professional if doing amino acid therapy so that other symptoms like serotonin syndrome don’t arise. Outlined in The Diet Cure by Julia Ross, amino acid therapy was a great starting point for her journey, but it didn’t help with the joint pain. The thing is, she wanted to have her cake and eat it too, literally, without suffering a three-week flare-up that would leave her bed-ridden. “I asked myself ‘why is it that other people can eat normal food and not feel like this?”
She needed to figure out how she could have a piece of chocolate cake and not be writhing in pain. What she came to understand along her journey to wellness was that it didn’t matter how drastic her dietary changes were – going completely raw vegan, juicing – as long as her body was toxic she wouldn’t be at a point where she could eat a hunk of chocolate cake and not suffer the aftermath. She needed to start to detox her whole body and the first place to start was cleansing and rebuilding the gut. “The healthy bacteria in your gut is 70 per cent of your immune system.
When you destroy the flora you are essentially destroying your immune system.” “The lining of the gut then becomes permeable to substances that are not meant to be in the body- this is called leaky gut.” “I was not breast fed as a child so didn’t get the infusion of healthy gut flora. I had constant bouts of strep throat and was on antibiotics more times than I can count. Years of eating mainly processed foods and the constant antibiotic use made my body a ticking time bomb.
The food poisoning was the straw that broke the camel’s back.” She had consumed what she found out later was spoiled tuna salad at a restaurant and the enormous amount of bacteria had her in the hospital with high fevers, diarrhea and extreme pain. After she recovered from the food poisoning her health slowly started to decline. She began having pain in different joints and was always exhausted.
These episodes became more and more frequent to the point she was unable to work. She had to move back home with her parents and begin her quest to heal naturally. Over the Internet she came across Dr. Bernard Jensen’s Tissue Cleanse Through Bowel Management in April 2014 and resolved to rebuild her gut and her immune system. She embarked on a one-week cleanse of her bowels outlined in Jensen’s book, which involved cold-pressed juice fasting, coffee enemas to help her liver detox, followed by high-dose probiotics.
She started feeling better, not 100 per cent, but it was a start, she says. The journey to regaining health doesn’t happen overnight, she says, much like chronic disease takes years to set in. She also did candida cleanses, parasite cleanses, water fasting for up to three days, then transitioned into a mostly whole food diet. This consists of eating only fruits, veggies (cooked or raw), nuts and seeds and clean local meat (free from steroids and antibiotics) 90 per cent of the time.
She allows herself a few treat meals a week. Transitions on the path to wellness need to be taken slowly, one step at a time, even for those who are evolving to a more whole foods diet, she says. “Don’t try to jump into a whole food diet cold turkey,” she says. “Start simple, like replacing your breakfast with whole foods so that you’re weaning yourself off (processed, junk foods) and not having the withdrawals and the detox effects.” Do that for a week, then eat whole foods at breakfast and lunch for a week and so on.
Too much too fast can lead to a healing crisis in the body because the body is removing toxicity – the result then is feeling much sicker than before, so take it slow, she advises. Having healed her gut, Gascon is now able to go out and enjoy wing night at a local restaurant or have that piece of chocolate cake and not experience debilitating joint pain. She says still has a few health issues to work through though. She has found a great balance in her life. She says she knows she still has a lot of healing to do and in order to do that she has to keep her stress levels low.
She was able to go back to work part time as an registered massage therapist in January and started her own business Affordable Massage Therapy Sudbury. Her goal is to make massage therapy affordable to everyone. They say there’s no cure for lupus, but rather than submit to the label of having lupus, Gascon chooses to create her best life possible. “I know my body needs whole foods,” Gascon says. “If I went back to eating bad food every day and working long hours then I would begin having symptoms again. Does it mean I have an incurable disease?
No, it means the food is toxic, our environment is toxic, our stress levels are too high and the body cannot deal with it.” “(Disease) is a result of toxic build up and eventually when you get to a toxic threshold your body is going to express disease somehow and it will be different for everyone. Some people will develop cancer, others autoimmune disease, some diabetes, etc. If you look at our toxicity levels we cannot, through diet alone, fix our issues because we just can’t get the nutrients we need to fully heal.
We need supplements and herbs, along with whole foods and we need to give the body time.” “We also need to understand that sometimes for every two steps forward we may take one step back. This is normal and has happened to me many times. The key is to not give up.”
Reading resources: The Mood Cure and The Diet Cure by Julia Ross, The Hormone Cure by Dr. Sara Gottfried and Stop the Thyroid Madness.